ABCs of Travel

by Anna Blanch on February 25, 2012

Sometimes you have to crash a party; especially, if it’s a good one. Today, I’m crashing a travel bloggers meme. I read the entry from  Nancy from Family on Bikes who in turn was responding to Steve from You’re not from around here are you? and decided that it would be a good one to join in on!

A: Age you made your first international trip

I was 21. It was a summer semester abroad during Law School. I went to Tuscaloosa, Alabama with a small group of students. In those 4 months, I managed to cover 6 US states, and then spent time in Germany and Thailand. Actually I spent some time teaching English in the north of Thailand before returning back to Australia.

But,  I feel like I’ve been traveling in my imagination since I was very young via the large world map my mum had laminated so we could follow the world travels of my aunts and uncles and my grandmother, Nan-Nan. I learned so much about the world as they journeyed about the world and from following my other grandparents, Ma and Pop, as they spent a number of years following retirement seeing Australia. My aunt Deb sent me letters as she traveled which were so important to me and are probably one of the main reasons I just *knew* that the world was much much larger that the wide brown land I grew up on.

B: Best (foreign) beer you’ve had and where

I have good memories of drinking Singha in Thailand, of Stella in Scotland (I know its not scottish, it’s just what I keep in the fridge), but my favourite is probably DogFishHead, one of the many wonderful boutique beers available from small Texas breweries. Gosh, now i’m remembering The Dancing Bear in Waco, my local which was only a block from my apartment. What a great little place that is.

C: Cuisine (Favourite)

So many. Bu the way I judge this is by asking myself, what could I eat all day everyday? The answer is always Japanese. Both Teriyaki Bento and Sashimi. I do still miss Taj Agra in Canberra, a northern Indian restaurant and the food in north thailand is amazing.

D: Destinations. Favourite. Least Favourite. Why.

My favourite so far would be probably San Francisco or Sydney. it’s sort of crazy that I would name the capital of my home state. It’s also funny that i named two large cities, because I cannot imagine a scenario in which I would want to live in one longer than a month – 300k is about my desirable maximum.

Least favourite: Seeing as I’m all about the journey being just as important than the destination, let me tell you that I utterly detest Charles De Gaulle and LAX airports. I really avoid them if at all possible. CDG has the worst signage known to mankind (and I can read French) and LAX is just uncomfortable. I think it was 11 hours waiting in a gate lounge during that first international trip that scarred me for life, except that i’ve had at least a dozen trips through there since and I still dislike it with a passion.

E: Event you experienced that made you say ‘Wow’

Actually, this is an Australian one too (i’m an expat, you have to let some of mine be slightly nostalgic): New Years Eve 1999 on Sydney Harbour. The fireworks were awesome. Otherwise, I think Mardi Gras in New Orleans and particularly sitting at the feet of the Clarinettist (I was one in High school) in Preservation Hall (this was pre Hurricane Katerine) for a couple of hours is one of my Wow moments! Although (and yes, I am a nerd) listening to Archbishop Rowan Williams give his speech to accept the CCL Lifetime achievement award where he wove grace, faithfulness and forgiveness with heavy doses of Marilynne Robinson was pretty darn awesome. Oh and I cannot forget being in St Andrews for the royal Wedding of Kate Middleton to Prince William as the eurofighters did a flyby overhead to coincide with that of their squadron mates over Buckingham Palace. It was so unexpected and extremely special because you knew the pilots were getting as much of a kick out the synchronisation as we were knowing that we were experiencing something once in a lifetime!

F: Favourite mode of transportation

Trains. hands down. Actually, anyone who’s being reading this blog for a while knows that I really do love travelling by Train. In fact, I’m planning an epic adventure for 2013 to travel overland from St Andrews, Australia to Tamworth, Australia via the Trans Siberian.

G: Greatest feeling while travelling

Remembering that I am bold, and brave and resourceful. The feeling that sometimes the detours, delays and small disasters provide the best travel stories!

H: Hottest place I’ve travelled to

118 degrees in Texas in august. It was horrific and 112 degrees when it was time to leave work at 3 (we used to shift our schedules so your shirt wasn’t soaking wet by the time you got to work at 8am). My work colleague made me let her drive me home because she was worried i’d get sunstroke walking the 3 blocks home.

I think the blast of humidity when you hit the evening air in Bangkok or Darwin or Cairns are also something to behold. Sometimes quite a shock when you’re in the midst of a Scottish winter.

I: Incredible service you’ve experienced and where

Honestly, pretty much everywhere in Texas, the service was good. Probably because the staff earn so much of their income that way. I think this now, after having lived in the UK for a while where the service is less than spectacular (most of the time you’re made to feel very aware that they don’t care if you’re there or not and that you should feel lucky that they’re even acknowledging your existence). In terms of a one day experience, there was this little restaurant in Progresso Nuevo, Mexico that was lots of fun – I think for the 8 of us we had 3 or 4 wait staff and a band of musicians. And the food was really good too!

J: Journey that took you the longest

Well, my first trip overseas was four months – most trips I do are longer than a month. But, given most of my ‘travels’ have also been tied up with being an expat this is slightly harder to figure out. The longest single’hop’ was a 14 hour bus trip from Bangkok to Chang Mai (overnight). Unlike, Steve and his  30-hour bus ride in Argentina, my bus did not have reclining seats, waiters or wifi. It did have Rush Hour 2 overdubbed in Thai playing on repeat all night. Yes, ladies and gentleman, Jet Li overdubbed in Thai! The only time I understood anything was when the subtitles (in English) flashed up when the characters spoke in Cantonese. But beyond that fiasco, the bus broke down 3 times, the road was filled with pot holes that the driver kept swerving to avoid…a little unnerving seeing the lights of oncoming traffic suddenly fill the bus. Honestly though, I did have it as bad as my friend Ian. He was sitting right at the front (it was a double decker bus, but they had all the passengers sitting on the top level) and could see the driver’s performance far too well…I haven’t even gotten to the best bit. When the bus finally gave up the ghost we were stranded in the middle of nowhere (i still to this day have absolutely no idea where we were) at an abandoned gas station. And in the attempt to find the ‘hole in the ground’ (that was the bathroom facilities) in the pitch black I managed to fall through a grate and fracture my big toe, scrape my legs and hands and scratch up my watch face (a recent gift from my parents). A new watch face, a bruised foot and a bruised ego later….I arrived in Chang Mair on the replacement bus utterly exhausted to find that my hosts (from the estate where I went to teach English) had thought I was arriving three days before and had given up hope on me…in all turned out well, but it was the longest bus ride of my life. I took the train on the way back to Bangkok.

K: Keepsake from your travels

I have small things that remind me of different places. I do have a collection of ‘shot glasses’ (call them toothpick holders if you like) that are a representation of the kitsch-iest (that’s a new word) of tourist consumerism. They remind me of the way places buy into the stereotypes others have about them and make them for their own. It’s a reminder to laugh at yourself (because others are laughing at you anyway). I have taken to collecting plates or special dishes in the last few years. It’s wonderful to use items everyday and remember the shop or bazaar or market where I bought it. My collection from my time in Paris is probably my favourite!

L: Let down sight. Why and where?

Paris. at least the first time. I was totally underwhelmed by a city that claimed to be high on love and romance. It probably didn’t help that i was there 1) alone 2) the week after riots 3) in winter. The sights and smells (particularly the smells) were nothing like I imagined they would be. You might be happy to know that I’ve made peace with Paris. After spending a summer there in 2010 (almost ten years after my first trip), we appreciate each other more now. There’s nothing like a chocolat au pain fresh from the oven or a crispy, yet soft in the middle, baguette!

M: Moment where you fell in love with travel

I was 6. I woke up in the sleeper of the truck my dad was driving to see the sunrise as we drove down the hill into Banana, Queensland. I have always loved the journey, the travel part, as much as the destination. This love of travel was fueled by following the travels of my grandparents and my aunts a they traveled around the world. My Aunt Deb’s letters and postcards in particular were like kerosine on a lit match. I always had a sense of how expansive the world is because of them. It still amazes me that I did travel overseas till i was 21. I feel like I’ve been traveling forever.

N: Nicest hotel you’ve stayed in

I’m a simple girl. The Marriot in San Francisco was pretty nice – what a wonderful week. The most welcome was the Hyatt at Chicago O’hare the night of the accident at Midway. There was a blizzard. It was epic. I think I got one of the last beds in chicago that night. Best $50 I’ve ever spent.

O: Obsession. What are you obsessed with taking pictures of while travelling?

Definitely buildings and doors. I love landscapes but I rarely feel like I’m doing them justice. I’d love to do more street photography because this fits with my natural style, but I am quite aware of not wanting to intrude on people. I need to learn some skills on that front. I love taking images at street markets, especially of displays, and signs, and food.

P: Passport stamps. How many and from where?

I just got a new passport, so it’s currently looking a bit empty. So many countries don’t stamp your passport anymore so i’m not really sure how to answer this question. I have probably around 30-40 in the old passport.

Q: Quirkiest attraction you’ve visited and where.

Australia has a lot of big things. The big Pineapple, Merino, Fish, golden guitar (the last two are in my hometown(s)), banana, shrimp…so, yeah. those. It’s possible I don’t seek out enough quirkiness when travelling internationally. The smallest house in Britain, in Wales, is pretty quirky.

R: Recommended sight, event, or experience.

An American homecoming parade and football game. If you’re not american, this will help you understand a variety of different aspects of american culture in one day. If you’re american, then I recommend New Years Eve at Macquarie’s Chair in Sydney.

S: Splurge. Something you have no problem forking over for while traveling.

Theatre tickets. Some of my favourite memories are productions I’ve seen. Like my Christmas first pantomime (from second row seats) in Oxford, Rent on Broadway, The royal Shakespeare company performing Canterbury’s Tales at Stratford-upon-Avon. One perk of traveling alone is that sometimes you can get discounted tickets on the day of the performance (you can often get amazing seats too, because they may have one seat on its own in a premium row).

T: Touristy thing you’ve done

I went very touristy when I was in LA for the first time. It reminded me exactly why I tend to dip in and out of the touristy stuff when I’m travelling (I tend to prefer museums and galleries and local parks to tours of celebrity homes, unless the celebrity is an 18th or 19th century author). I’m glad that I did the tour of the Kodak theatre, I have a better feel for the Oscars now I understand the space the awards take place in.

U: Unforgettable travel memory

There are many. just one? probably seeing the scottish coast by train the first time and realising that I was going to be living up here, by the sea. The trip to Mallaig is another very Scottish train journey that I will never forget. Learning how to dance in the Thai style (complete with metal fingertips) was truly an experience – I discovered that my hands were not built like my thai friends’ hands (and I thought I was flexible).

V: Visas. How many of them and for where.

Being Australian helps. Often Visas are given when you arrive. I have longer terms visas for the US and the UK that are large and brightly coloured.

W: Wine, best glass while traveling and where.

The best? Sometimes, moments picnicking with friends near the eiffel tower with wine and baguettes and charcouterie make any wine good. Mulled wine on a cold winter’s night at the Christmas markets in Edinburgh or Berlin takes some beating.  I love good wine, but I remember the moments more.

X: eXcellent view and from where

The top of the Arc De Triomphe, Paris has a 360 degree view. You can see so much of Paris’s geographical layout from up there. One of my favourite natural views has to be in the blue mountains, Australia. Just find a trail to a lookout. Wherever you are, you will be blown away. The view from the top of mt Ainslie, in Canberra which gives you the view of the War Memorial, the Avenues, Old Parliament House, and New Parliament House lined up. It’s quite special.

Y: Years spent traveling

All my life really, in Australia until about ten years ago, and then from 2001. It became a lifestyle from 2007.

Z: Zealous sports fans and where

Battle of the Brazos between Baylor and Texas A&M brings out the loonies. I think the very first college sporting event I went to, between University of Alabama and Vanderbilt (it was a basketball match) was the most full on basketball I’d been to up until that point. But being Australian, any Bledisloe cup match between New Zealand and Australia has to get a look in. Admittedly, I haven’t been to a Rangers v Celtics match while living in Scotland – their rivalry is the stuff of legends.

So after all of that, I’m done!

Listening. Observing. Participating. Writing. Photographing. Reflecting.

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Traveller. Scholar. Photographer. Writer. Dreamer. Teacher. Anna Blanch is founder of Goannatree, and a PhD candidate in the Institute of Theology, Imagination, and the Arts at St Mary’s College, University of St Andrews, Scotland. Overland to Oz is a crazy adventure marked with photos and word and inspired by the incredible women in Anna’s family, especially her late grandmother, whom she knew as Nan-Nan.


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